Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Elizabeth of York and Baby Jaybus

Some rather festive things to show you this time.  First, although we eschew Christmas decorations and have for many years, this year I decided to make a surreal manger with the Baby Jaybus.  Found a wooden manger at Goodwill for $2.00.  I shoved in one of my many dolls and augmented it with hay, animals, lights and decorations.  Thanks to hot glue, the thing I almost never use except for when I want cheap and quick results.  The manger is about 12" wide and tall.  See what you think.

My most recent listing in the shop is "Elizabeth of York at the Tudor Hotel."  I combined various handmade elements to create this, and I'm extremely pleased.  The woman was valiant and self-sacrificing in her mission to unite the houses of Lancaster and York by having babies for Henry VII.  One of those babies was Henry VIII, so way to go, Liz!

So glad I bought that huge roll of recycled hand-dyed sari ribbon.  It's just the right color - colors, actually, being shades of green and brown - for so many things.  And strong.  The "Rm. 12" bezel is one of the last of my "faux French enamel" pieces.  I love the look of black and white, as always - and this makes a great pseudo key fob.  Did they have key fobs in the middle ages?  

Elizabeth's portrait looks a heck of a lot like a Holbein.  Then again, Holbein was so popular that all painters were copying him then.  The rumor has always been that Elizabeth was utterly beautiful, and one wonders if that was really the case.  I've seen her wooden effigy head at the Museum of London, but that was carved for her funeral.  Why oh why didn't they have digital cameras then?  It would have made life so much easier.  Silly medievals.  

A close up of the reversible button band.  I taught myself to do this from seeing a picture of one.  I use waxed linen cord.  These are so very flexible and comfortable on the neck, and they can be made while sitting in the living room watching TV.  This time I incorporated a metal ring on each end while I was making it, which greatly simplified attachment to the sari silk.  You can figure this out.  It's a simple threading process.  

So that's about it.  Trying to avoid everyone else's stress is doing me in a bit.  Seems there's nowhere to hide.  Everyone snapping like alligators in heat, and using the end of the year rush or the season or something else as an excuse.  Humans make strange choices.  Who would know from their behavior that 'tis the season to be jolly, fa la la?  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Apparently we aren't buying a house

Readers, I return to you from a three-week bashing in the wilds of suburbia.  I am bloody and not all that unbowed.  I am beaten and bruised.  I am traumatized in ways that may require a very long recovery time.
It should never have come to this.  

In short, we were trying to buy a house.

You might think that two intelligent people who want to buy a house and have the money to do so would certainly be able to buy one.  And yet, we put FOUR offers on houses.  We were in contract on one.  At the end of it all, we are here at the old address.

I am a ducks-in-a-row kind of person.  Before looking at our first possible house, I made sure our financing was in place.  I talked with our loan officer at length.  I obtained prequalification letters in various amounts so that if and when we wanted to write an offer we could submit the letter with the offer.  (Submission with the offer is not required here, but I wanted to make our offer as strong and obviously serious as possible.)

We also had discussed the type of house we wanted - size, features, location, age, etc.  We realized our needs were fairly specific, and that the time of year didn't favor our search, and we were realistic in all things.  Above all, we were willing to compromise.  And negotiate.  Here are our house-hunting experiences:

When We Found Our First Agent

We responded to a listing for a house before we had an agent.  That house wasn't for us (too teensy tiny) but we liked the agent, so we asked her to work for us.  In retrospect, more conversation was warranted.  We should have asked questions like "How long have you been doing this?" and "How many houses did you sell last year?"  (Actually the second answer would have answered both questions, as she hadn't been in business for a year, despite being quite mature in years.)  I should have told her that in any deal we drive the bus, because it's our bus, and so on.  I should have mentioned that the idea of handing over major decisions to someone we just met seems insane to me.  I know those things now.  She showed us the first two houses we submitted offers on, with other sad houses slotted in between.  

House One - The Stinky Colonial

I found the Scented Wonder online.  (From start to finish, I cruised and Estately like a madwoman, It's what I do: if I'm in, I'm all in.)  The Stinky Colonial was Colonial only in decoration,
Pretty hard to see past this crap.  
but in this regard the word "only" doesn't do it justice.  It was necessary to look beyond all of the huge antiques the owners had stuffed the house with, to the point that it was difficult to walk from room to room.  Moreover, they used scented candles and potpourri and various toxic-fume-emitting machines as if they were covering the odor of an open grave (they weren't).  The Stinky Colonial still seemed very close to perfect for us.  All floors were wood (we can't do carpet), nice shutters on all windows (privacy) and it was in the right location.  Also pretty much the right price.  In retrospect it might have been a bit too small, but we're willing to downsize.

It also had a sunroom, which is a bonus.  The cats would love that.  I discounted the tiny kitchen with formica counters and the gold-framed shower doors.  I decided to have all of that replaced.  So we put in an offer.

A few hours later we got a call from our weepy agent (are her tears something I should have to deal with?) The owners had received our 97% asking price offer and immediately taken the house off the market!  Apparently they were two very old people who didn't realize they didn't want to move until they got an offer.  Reality was too much for them.

Prior to our offer, according to our agent, they had been bemoaning the fact that no one wanted their house.  Despite very much wanting to sell (they thought), they refused our first two requests for viewings.  I should have taken this warning seriously.  We made a request to see it at 5:45 on a Friday, to which they responded "That's our dinner time."  Our second request for a Saturday viewing was met with "We're having guests this weekend."  Both of these responses would have been fine if they had put them in the agent's notes, as in "do not show between 5:30 and 7:00," and "weekend showings are rarely possible," or some such thing.  Still, being me, I persisted, and we finally had that viewing.  By the time we saw the place in the flesh, I had viewed it so many times online that I practically lived there.  All our furniture was in place.  And then.

So scratch that.  I found myself comforting our agent on the phone, telling her that "things happen for a reason" (yeah, the sellers have dementia) and that she shouldn't be upset because she hadn't done anything wrong.  What was wrong with this picture?  Wasn't she supposed to be comforting me?

We saw a few more houses.  Nothing special.  Nothing we wanted to live in.  And then we saw:

House Two - Big House on the Prairie

Our agent actually sent this one to me.  It was a big big house.  It was relatively new.  (Newness is one of our requirements.  We replaced the roof here last year and the process aged me several years.  I'm not going through that again.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Sprocket is not real good at handling workmen and I would kill them for the things they do if I were present, so I had to go to a motel.  It was a very traumatic process.)

I soon nicknamed Big House on the Prairie "B-HOP."  (Further note:  as with strays of any kind or farm animals you plan to eat one day, it's not good to give houses a nickname, for all kinds of reasons).  It was and is a gorgeous monstrous amazing cavernous multi-volume-ceilinged place of magic and wonder.  Furthermore, it had a whole lower floor that had been immaculately finished, complete with full kitchen including stove, dishwasher, microwave, and a full bath.  In fact, I'd have to pay to have the carpet removed down there, but it was going to be one kick ass studio!  Upstairs the kitchen was gargantuan, with endless cupboards with sliders inside, a gas stove, top-of-the-line appliances, double oven, and so on.
I'm a sucker for clerestory windows.

B-HOP was also at the very upper end of our comfort budget.  Our banker had told us to go ahead and just buy what we wanted, but what we really wanted was to not be in further debt, and since the plan was to sell our current residence next spring to allow for easy overlap and work at both places, we also wanted to eat in the meantime.  So we had a high number in our heads.  With renovations (mostly painting and carpet removal) B-HOP was at the limit.

We made a generous offer.  It was something like 98% of asking price.  Our contingencies were the standard - loan approval and inspection, with the one thing that we will never negotiate on - possession at closing.  Apparently, since we last bought a house, possession at closing has been something only really bad, bad, evil buyers ask for.  Our agent reacted with horror when we told her no way was anyone going to live in our house for even five minutes after we bought it.  She simply did not understand our concern.  "But it's done all the time," she whined.  "Not by us," we said.  (By this time I'm wondering exactly what it is that makes her our agent, because she never seems to be on our side.  But of course we had signed a contract with her for exclusive representation, so I waited for her to represent.  And waited.)  "But what if they agree to everything but they need to stay?" she asked.  "They can stay in a motel," we replied.

Let me say here that she also failed us in allowing us to make such a high offer.  The house would never have appraised at that offer.  The asking price was at complete variance with all comps in the area - not that I'm so very fond of comps, but appraisers are.  She should have recommended that we come in at a much lower price.  If she had done that, we would have quickly found out how inflexible the sellers were, and all the subsequent trauma would not have happened.  But she didn't.  Her only response to my offer amount was "Oh, that's a good number," as if she was playing the lottery.

The sellers politely ask for more money.  
So we put in this offer.  The next day the response was that they wanted MORE money, and they would be staying the house for FIVE DAYS after closing.  They wanted closing to happen in three weeks, which is unheard of in these parts.  They also made the contract continent on some performance of the people they were buying a condo from, which was utterly unacceptable.

I looked at this counteroffer and was instantly stuck somewhere between fury and heartbreak.  This was a mugging, not a negotiation.  They left us with no room to maneuver.  We were not going to give in on the possession, we had already offered enough money, and no way was I going to be held hostage to third-party performance.  Why would we give two cents about their closing on their condo?  I honestly didn't care if they walked out of the room the minute after our closing and disappeared forever.  This was business, not a slumber party.

So our response to that had to be "no sale."  No response at all.  Whereupon our agent went ballistic.  "WHY won't you let me negotiate for you?" she wailed.  "Negotiate what?" we asked.  She had no answer to that.  In her book - and she told me as much, we didn't "trust" her enough to let her negotiate for us.  This was a surreal moment for me, in which I realized it was all about her.  It was as if we were on the Titanic and she was crushed because we wouldn't let her negotiate the whole iceberg thing.  She honestly felt that she had the power to turn things around, when it was clearly an unredeemable cluster hump.

At this point I sat our agent down and had the "What you expect and what we expect" conversation, which should have happened at the beginning.  It was hard for me to do this, just because it's not easy for anyone to be this real.  She nodded and said she understood, but she really didn't.  She subsequently made it perfectly clear that I might as well have been speaking Martian.

We looked at a few more houses.  Unfortunately we were now comparing them to B-HOP, which meant they all appeared dark, dank and tiny.  We tried to not compare, but B-HOP was in our heads.  And our hearts.

I woke up several days later realizing I really really wanted B-HOP.  I mean REALLY.  So I cleared it with Mister Sprocket and called our agent and said we wanted to put in another offer.  I had called our loan officer and asked him about the three-week closing date and he said he could actually do that for us!  So we submitted offer number 2, which was FULL ASKING PRICE (I know, someone should have stopped me.  I should have stopped me, but since I was clearly too far gone, someone else should have tripped me and held me down until I came to my senses, but that didn't happen.)  We also said we'd close in their time frame.  We refused their request to stay longer.  And we waited.

They accepted!  Yes, they grudgingly accepted a full-price offer.  And this was to be the theme from now on:  Their grudging acceptance of everything they wanted, and their utter outrage in response to anything else.  (I want it noted for the record here that these people had Bibles and crosses strewn all over their house.  It was like they'd been raided by vampires at one point.  So I kind of expected them to be christians, because they were advertising it in big flashing neon lights.  But they had apparently never gotten as far as the New Testament.)

But who cared! We were in contract!  There it was on the online listings:  "Contingent on finance and
inspection."  And that was US!!!!  Whee.  And yet not whee, because now we had to get the loan process started.  Luckily for Mr. Sprocket, Ms. All-Ducks-In-A-Row had already gotten all the required papers together.  All we had to do was visit our friendly loan officer and apply.  That went swimmingly.

We also had to have the inspection.  We lined up a company to do it.  It was the company recommended by our realtor, which is a thing a buyer isn't supposed to do but they all do anyway.  Fortunately it all went well.  Our inspector was, in fact, fabulous.  He was professional, calm, and gave us the most thorough home inspection anyone could ever hope to have.  (And afterward, his company gave our contact information to everyone on Facebook, and we were barraged with phone calls, emails, etc. from all kinds of related services.  I had to threaten them with the Attorney General before they stopped.)

Yes, the inspection was thorough. And it revealed STUFF.  Far too much stuff.  There was a hole in the roof above the master bath.  Some ridge shingles were missing (obvious to anyone who looked up) and rain had gotten in.  The water was puddling above the master bath ceiling. The whirlpool tub not only didn't work, but it smoked and smelled like burning wire when it was turned on.  (Our inspector flipped the GFI for safety, and our agent later made it seem the owners were about to blame us for breaking their whirlpool.)

More than ten windows in this house had broken seals, and would have to be replaced.  And since there's no way to get a perfect match and the other windows were probably failing right behind them, that meant all new windows.  Massive expense.  The grading was wrong and was letting a bit of water into the foundation.  Another massive expense.  The gas line wasn't grounded - danger.  The house needed repainting, desperately (which would cost $4,000 - I got an estimate).  Various other bits and things.

Heartbreak.  I wrote up our list of remedies.  I did this very carefully, because although I was heartbroken I still wanted the deal to go through.  I wrote and rewrote, being very precise in regard to nuance, order of requests, etc.  And I listed the repairs we would make, to show that we were in the game just as much as the sellers.

I asked them to foot the cost of repainting.  It was in such bad shape it was listed as a repair on the inspection.  I asked them to fix the roof, the electrical issues, and the whirlpool, although I did say they could replace the whirlpool with a regular tub of the same size and quality if they wanted to. That would have saved them lots of moolah, and I don't have any use for a whirlpool anyway.

I told them we would take care of the grading and the windows.  We would take care of all the other things the inspector found, as well.  I felt we were meeting them more than halfway.

I sent this to our realtor and for the first time I got a call from the broker, who we'd never met.  Our agent called and said "Bob is on the line too.  Is that okay?"  Was I going to say no when Bob was already on the line?  Of course not.  I fumed.  He's immediately telling me "We're going to ask for money and not repairs."  I told him we were not asking for money except in the case of the painting, because that could not be done in cold weather and would have to wait until spring.

Bob the Blowhard Broker
Then he told me he'd have to "re-word" some of what I'd written because "it won't all fit on the form."  That excuse was absurd and I nearly started screaming at him.  Who the hell did he think he was, I wondered?  He proceeded to tell me who he was.  He was very, very experienced, he was oh so good at what he did, and he certainly knew how to get this deal done.  I told him I hadn't just fallen off the turnip truck either, and this was our deal so the response was going to be exactly as I had written it, unless I'd put in something illegal.  I told him to use another sheet of paper if he needed to.  Bob's problem was that I had met him before, under different names, and I was not interested in his act.  Even across the phone line and without meeting him, the reek of Blowhard was difficult to take.

He agreed to submit the form as I'd written it. Then when he sent the form over he had substituted the word "qualified" for "licensed" where I had said all repairs were to be done by licensed contractors.  Qualified, my ass.  The sneak.  We had that changed.  I told our agent "if you want a form that we will sign, these changes will be made."  I don't want to have to be such a hardass, and I get cranky when I'm forced into it, but I'm not backing down.

So we submitted the remedy list.  I thought they would come back with some other stuff, then we would come back and we'd meet in the middle.  I thought we'd probably split the cost of painting, and maybe let the little repairs go.  They clearly weren't repair people, or the house wouldn't be in such a state to begin with.

The response was this:  "Our roofer and electrician will make roof and electrical repairs and we will do nothing else."

So that was that.  These people who had been so eager to close early were turning down a full-price offer by refusing to negotiate.  And I felt like a big fat fool, because I had known, deep down, who these people were when they responded to our first offer.  They were douches.  Another Mr. Big Man who had to "win" no matter what and was willing to sabotage his own goals to prove a point.

Our theory now is that their condo buy fell through - no doubt due to their shenanigans - and they wanted us to back out of this deal.  They certainly didn't use any language that indicated they were trying to negotiate or reach a compromise.  They wanted an excuse to take their house off the market, and because they just couldn't be honest about it, they tortured us into making it happen for them.  An hour after we failed to answer, they took the house off the market.  I hope they're very happy with their leaking basement and ungrounded gas line.  Maybe their windows won't all fail this winter.

We were aching with grief.  I still am, to some degree, even though I'm glad we don't have to replace all those windows.  These people simply would not negotiate, and there was nothing we could do.  The more we gave, the more they took.  And that's a horrible feeling.  We felt/feel used and degraded.  Nothing good happened in that episode, because the sellers were not decent folk.

I called our loan officer and told him if he ever had a problem with deals going through too fast to contact us, because we were apparently the Typhoid Mary of the real estate deal.  Somewhere between Typhoid Mary and the Flying Dutchman, actually.  Maybe the Typhoid Dutchman.  People didn't simply refuse our offers - they took their houses off the market after dealing with us.  That's how terrible we were to deal with.  Apparently.  And yet we'd done nothing wrong.

I also asked our loan officer if he had a good agent for us, and he said he did.  So I proceeded to fire the one we had.

I tried to do this painlessly.  I wrote to her and thanked her for all her effort on our behalf, then told her we'd be represented by another agent in the future.  I said of course we'd work with her to tie up loose ends like return of earnest money, etc.

And immediately the phone rang.  The agent screamed at me.  "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?  TELL ME WHAT THIS MEANS?"  Apparently she was farther gone than I'd thought if the words didn't make sense to her.  "EXPLAIN YOURSELF!"  she roared.  How very distasteful.  How unprofessional.   "No," I responded.  (I tend to not explain myself on command.)  "WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO?"  She howled.  "What part of no do you not understand?" I said, and hung up.

I was so shaken by this grossly unprofessional behavior that I had Mr. Sprocket call her.  He told her very calmly that "raised voices will not be tolerated," and so on.  He said this instead of my preferred "How dare you yell at my wife?" speech, but that's about as angry as he gets with anyone except me.

House Three - Slime Pit from Hell

We met our new agent at another listing I wanted to see.  She is very professional, outgoing and friendly, and she has been in the business for long enough to know how to get things done.  We liked her immediately, and we still do.  The online photos of the Slime Pit had been bad, but by this time we knew to discount photos.  (Except for this - agents who take bad photos are not professional.  Sellers who allow bad photos of their house to remain online for five minutes are also crappy.  Those two points are worth remembering.)

The Slime Pit was indeed slimy.  We were initially put off by the fact that when we arrived for the first showing the owners had not left yet.  When they finally did leave, we were appalled by the filth, the dirt, the nastiness of the place.  The photos were actually pretty accurate!  Still, we thought about things like location, number and size of rooms, and so on.  The kitchen was ridiculously small.  The basement was actually do-able, until I got to the desirable basement bathroom.  Imagine the worst bathroom you've ever seen in the most dismal out-of-the-way gas station.  Now make it dirtier.  The only thing this bathroom didn't have was a dead rat in the corner.  See photo below, if you dare.

Actual shot of the basement toilet.  

The basement was also difficult to look at because this guy obviously spent a lot of time loading his own shotgun shells. Gunpowder and ammo everywhere.  Apparently regular loads just weren't good enough for him.  Which was disquieting, since we knew from the bathroom just how good his aim was.

Upstairs, there was a lot of wolf head wallpaper border, flowered wallpaper and grandma's curtains to deal with. 
Grandma's wallpaper in the laundry room.
In addition, the owners returned too soon and were standing in the yard at the end of our first viewing, with their little dog dressed in a Christmas coat two weeks before Thanksgiving. And the owner was vaping.  Imagine an unshaven, grinning, sloppily-dressed middle-aged man vaping while trying to control a yappy dog in a Christmas sweater.  Yes, these owners were just as appealing as the house they were trying to sell.  At the end of that visit we were strongly of two minds.  One mind said "no, no, no, run, run, run!" and another said "well, maybe."  After sleeping on it, we thought no.  Too much work to do.  Too many cooties to remove.  Spiritual cleansing needed.  Smudging, sage, etc.  Maybe an exorcism.  

But a day or so later I thought we should see it again.  I thought it might look better on a sunnier day.  Also, we were desperate.  Our time window for buying was closing.  (Our plan was to close by the end of the year, spent January and February making improvements on the new house, move in, then make improvements on the old house in March in time for putting it on the market in April.)

The basement cleaned up for showing.  
On the second visit the female owner was actually present on the back deck!  I wanted to walk, but our agent persuaded me to stay.  The owner had just had foot surgery and apparently she forgot how to call a taxi or a friend or her parole officer to get her out of there.  The yappity dog was also out there,  jumping at the back door, trying to get in to defend his territory.  And the male owner came back before the viewing was over, and went to the back porch as well.  These people were inappropriate on so many levels.  It was alarming.

Still, we were so numb by this time we thought "oh, what the hell."  We put in a 95% offer that expired at 10:00 a.m. the following day.  It was going to be hell to wait that long.  As it turned out, 10:00 came and went without a response.  Our agent told me that their agent had said they were countering with a number that was just $5,000 below asking - which, again, the house would never appraise at - and they were not going to bring any money to the table at closing.  In other words, the house was being sold as is.  Which would have been nice to know before we went there.  Twice.  Their offer came in at 12:30.  We were so far apart in this negotiation that they were in a different time zone.

So once again, no sale.  These people seem to be in some dire financial strait which is of course not our concern.  And they are willing to put others through the process of thinking there is a house for sale when in fact there just isn't.  Maybe their Barbieclone agent convinced them they could get full asking or close to it - which, if she did, was utterly irresponsible.

We're done for now.  Just done.  We've had enough insanity and deceptive dealing from sellers and their agents.  Can't anyone just deal directly and honestly any more?  That was a rhetorical question, and it also implies that people could ever deal honestly.  If they could, there wouldn't need to be so many laws and regulations.  If people were straight shooters who didn't pack their own special loads, there would be no need for contracts.  

The arguments involved in these negotiations have also done some damage to our marriage,  We have ended up not liking each other at several points.  We have found that there are weaknesses in our abilities to cope under pressure and to make difficult decisions.  All useful information, probably, but I could have gone a lifetime without having to face it and been perfectly happy.

So, for now, we stay where we are.  We're warm and dry and it's a nice house.  The mystery to me is why we were unable to buy a house.  Other people do it, and we've done it ourselves several times.  On top of being a crap experience, this is probably also a lesson in acceptance.  Color me disgusted.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hacking the Life Hackers

Without further ado, here are some of the weirdest Life Hacks I've seen recently.  As is usual with helpful hints, they reveal the bizarre inner workings of the minds of their creators and leave me wondering about the state of humanity in general.

"less effort to do?"  Well, never mind.  Maybe they never finished grade school.  The real humor here is in the typo where the author means to say you can get "more" sleep, not less.  Because the truth is that if you drink more water you actually will get much less sleep, due to getting up several times at night to pee.  And also this just isn't true on any level.  I'll just keep drinking when I'm thirsty.  Thanks.

Um, I guess you could do this.  Once.  And then spend the next several months living with the smell of burnt cheese whenever you make toast.  Clearly, if you're doing this you have electrical power, which means your oven works, which means you could do this in a frying pan, but sure, yeah.  This is the kind of thing that only seems like a great idea if you're drunk and really stupid to begin with.  Also good for drying wet hair.  Uh huh.

First, yes - your ass does look huge in those pants.  And you didn't find that hole: someone else found it.  And how about wearing some underwear, chubby?

You could also wear skin-colored pants in the future.  There's a hack for you.  Or no pants at all, but then you wouldn't have anywhere to carry a Sharpie.

Maybe you really just shouldn't leave the house.  I'm sure the rest of the world would vote for that.

Yes, and it also guarantees you'll be told to pull ahead into one of the reserved spaces, where you will wait for at least 30 minutes.  Then you'll be given someone else's nasty food, but you won't know it until you get home, because now you're late and the children are starving.  Too bad you never learned to cook, isn't it?  I guess you're just a pathetic person.  

"Yes" what?  Yes, you now have made yet another thing no one will eat?  Yes, weeks from now you will find the sticky residue from this between the sofa cushions where your guests shoved it?  Yes, this would make a much better insulating and/or packing material than a food product?  Yes, this looks like molded chopped liver?  Yes, this will smell like vomit from the minute it's made until you finally throw it out?  Yes to all of the above, and thanks for the brilliant hack.  Maybe add some chocolate chips next time?

Wow, what a great idea!  Maybe if you stopped having fist fights in the house you wouldn't break light covers?  And of course we all have lovely blue Mason jars sitting around.  So why not use them creatively?  What?  What's that you say?  You want me to keep a broom and dustpan nearby so when the jar explodes from the heat build up I can keep things tidy?  Well, I call that a double hack, sir!  Well done!

This is a take on the old favorite of making dinner rolls out of actual bunnies.  Your guests will be expecting rabbits, but they'll get dough!  How very witty!  As in the original recipe, all you need is a cookie sheet and a sharp pair of scissors.  Much less mess with this one, and trapping the dinner rolls isn't as difficult.

One possible issue is that although these look like rabbits now, once they bake they look more like bread blobs with bumps at one end.  Why not add a decorative tuft of genuine rabbit fur decoration to make them more realistic?  You're welcome, hackers.

And finally, because we all know the Zombie apocalypse is right around the corner, I share the following public service safety message:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Scent Pollution in a Stinky, Stinky, Stinky World

Dear friends, colleagues, and people who stumbled in here by mistake:  STOP STINKING UP MY AIR.  I'm not talking about your personal body odors.  I'm referring to scent pollution, which is a very serious topic.  And so, please, let's not allow any humor into this discussion.

Oh, grow up.  I'm not talking about this!

Scent pollution is a serious health problem.  In the last ten days, Mr. Sprockets and I have been forced to leave several establishments due to overpowering horrible odors coming from patrons and the establishments themselves.  

1.  The library.  We no sooner step in than I'm virtually thrown to the floor by an overpowering odor of "L'Air Du Stink," also known as "I bathed in it."  A woman walking by me had left a toxic cloud of VOCs in her wake.  My stomach turned over.  My tongue began to tingle.  Next to me, Mr. Sprockets started coughing and could not stop.  We had no choice but to leave.  

2. Our optometrist.  After waiting two weeks for an appointment to try to determine why the glasses they made me weren't right, we were punched in the the face by a cloud of Death Gas in the waiting room.  "What is that smell?" we asked.  "Smell?" the receptionist inquired politely, her olfactory sense obviously reamed out and scarred by constant inhalation of VOCs.  "Oh, you mean our French Vanilla Serenade Plug-In! Don't you like it?"  

Like it?  Sister, do you know what's in that stuff?  The thing does plug in (and is a fire hazard, but that's another subject) but there is nothing even remotely French or vaguely vanilla about it, and that ain't no serenade.  

Studies have shown that the odor in about 95% of all scented products -  perfumed, candles, washing powders, dryer sheets, cleaning products and all cosmetics - is derived from petrochemicals.  Oil.  Bubbling crude.  Texas Tea.  Brought to you by the makers of gasoline.  The only exceptions to this are cold-pressed essential oils.  And some of them are overpowering, as well.  If a smell makes me nauseous, it's not good for my health.  

I believe in personal freedom.  If you want to smear it on your body, or eat it, wear it, or even marry it, be my guest.  But when you pollute my air with your choices, that's where your freedom ends.  The noxious chemicals you're choosing to spew into my air go  into my nose and my lungs and my brain.  Studies have shown these VOCs are often more dangerous than second-hand cigarette smoke.  Google it.

We left the optometrist after making an appointment for next week, when they will have presumably taken steps. . .such as what?  The office windows don't open.  The VOCs have permeated the upholstery, the carpet, the drywall.  Their decision to allow this pollution means that I have two choices - breathe it in some form or find another office.

In response to continual and pervasive scents, we've had to modify our behavior somewhat.  The local Jo-Ann Fabrics puts their faux cinnamon-scented pinecones in the lobby area, between the two sets of sliding doors.  This allows them to build up such an amazing concentration of VOCs that I can smell them 15 feet from the front of the store with the doors closed.  So we hold our breaths coming and going.  Still, the crap gets on our clothes and in our hair and on our skin. . . .and it's poison.  Apparently (and you can Google this too) employees at various branches of the store have complained about their constant exposure to this rank and unhealthful miasma. Jo Ann has reacted with their usual lack of sensitivity and compassion, and they have chosen to increase the torture period.  This year, the pinecones were placed in our local store in mid-September, and will no doubt remain there until well after the new year.  

Many employers are adopting scent-free workplace policies after receiving complaints from suffering employees. There have even been lawsuits, because some unreasonable people don't want to be forced to find another job because of a coworker's pollution.  I don't know how an employer could guarantee a scent-free and VOC-free workplace, especially when the employer is always painting and putting down new carpet while people are working.  While it's entirely possible to mandate that employees not wear scent, what about the scented washing powder they use, and those abysmal dryer softener sheets?  What about acrid and poisonous dry cleaning fumes?  Scented moisturizers, cosmetics, etc.?  Few people are willing to forgo their scents.

Here at Sprockets Inside, we live a scent-free life.  We have to, because of my multi-chemical sensitivity and Mr. Sprockets' allergies.  Our choices work for us until we go out into the stinky, stinky world.  It's a world where, by and large, people do not understand about scent pollution and act like we're completely out of our tree when we object to it.  These people are inured to smell, and they are unaware that they are breathing in an ocean of petrochemicals and VOCs.   Being desensitized, they use more and more scented products.  Many of these items are highly toxic to pets and children, and therefore to all of us.  

Some people wear charcoal-filter face masks.  I'm testing a new mask to wear when I go out.  In fact, I'm wearing this lovely prototype now as I type.  I sure hope I don't call attention to myself, but if it makes small children run away screaming I'll be pleased.   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Illiteretsy and the Complimentary Furlong

I suppose all online forums have the same inherent issues.  They are full of humans, for a start, some of whom are not very bright.  The least clever are often the most certain and the loudest.  And any forum is only as good as its moderators.  

I have a history of being attracted by the chatter of forums.  My most recent forum foray happened on an online selling site whose name I shall not mention, but which of course you can guess with incredible accuracy.  I was hooked.  I spent hours a day there, and I consequently wasted a lot of time reading silly questions.  

"Are my photos good enough?"  A cheap bid to get me to look at your shop, seen several times a day, along with "How would you list this?" and "Please help me figure out my shipping costs."  The strain of not being allowed to answer these questions honestly quickly exhausted me.   I soon began skipping these posts.

Others lured me in with their incredible perversion, the ripe, sweet smell of people who should never, ever attempt to engage in commerce of any kind.   

It's Complimentary, Watson

Post:  "I need complimentary items for my shop.  Right now I'm only selling like one type of thing, and I need other things to sell as well.  What could I put in my shop that would be complimentary?"

I pointed out in my very civil and helpful response that "complimentary" means free, and I asked kindly if the poster were thinking of giving away gifts with each purchase. (Some sellers do.) To which I received this response:

"Why do you have to be the Grammer Nazi?  U know what I mean."

I responded that in fact I had only her own words to go on, so I didn't know what she meant, which is why I was asking.  Also that the subject in question was not grammar, and that the reference to Nazis was unwarranted.  I further assisted her in arriving at the inevitable conclusion by pointing out that in a retail setting the world "complimentary" has one meaning, and that if she listed an item using that word she would have no alternative but to supply it free, which would mean also offering free shipping.  

The moderators deleted my posts and sanctioned me.  They directed me to the forum rules, wherein according to them I would find guidelines about "being respectful of other members."  I was instructed to read these rules and not return until I could behave properly.  And that advice was utterly complimentary.  

Going on a Furlong

Post:  What do I do with my shop when I'm on a furlong?  

Various answers from other users suggested putting the shop in vacation mode, changing the shop banner to reflect much longer shipping times, etc.  

Once again - as I am the soul of helpfulness - my remark called attention to the fact that a furlong is a unit of measurement.  This is the response I received:

"In fact a furlong is a 'unit of measurement,' so you are wrong.  But it's used the way I did, as common slang, as well.  I am over 80 years old and I know what I'm talking about.  You should read the classics and then you'd know too."  

Was my education lacking?  I dived right into the "classics," books such as "Misusing Language and then Digging The Hole Deeper" and "Yes I Screwed Up But You'll Never Hear it From Me."  According to these books it's fine and even admirable to make up word definitions and then either choose to blame it on spellcheck or defend it as being a correct usage - dealer's choice.    

The moderators were quick to sanction me again.  Apparently in their world a furlong is not a unit of measurement as I had stated, but more of a "unit of measurement," as the original poster insisted.  Also, if I believed the moderators' assertions,  I had once again been disrespectful to another forum member.  


All forums are as screwed up as their most ignorant and strident members, in an inverse quadratic ratio to the sine of the mediocrity of the moderators.  It would be more productive and infinitely more beneficial to mental health to give pedicures to strangers in bus stations than it would be participate in any public forum.   And furthermore:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kiss my jump rings

Little donuts of steely goodness.
How grateful am I to have wrists like strong tree trunks?  Sure comes in handy when I have to sit down and make steel jump rings!  I wind the 18-gauge wire by hand around a mandrel, then cut each link separately with flush cutters, then wiggle the ends until they are together and give each jump ring a tap or two with the nylon hammer to work-harden it.  I do this because, so far, no one else makes affordable steel jump rings of the right gauge and quality.  Yes, I suffer for my art.  

I've been working on a couple of lines that came about by accident.  One is the "Kiss My" series (title suggested by spousal unit) which involves my handmade clay buttock units.  This part of the anatomy is humorous in many ways, and a lot of word play in terms of titles is available.  So far there are three in this series, seen here.  
Blue Bottom Bells

Pumpkin Butt

Our Lady of Perpetual Hiney

And finally, two shots of my main worktable as it was this morning, without prettying it up.  Just to prove goodness can come out of chaos.  How do I keep pieces of stuff from getting into my teacup, you ask?  I don't.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In my drawers and on my shelves

I am not by nature a hoarder. Everything I own is something I need to have, and it's all very organized.  Well, somewhat organized.  I can usually find a thing quickly when I need it.  Recently someone said to me, "Your studio must be packed with astounding things."  It is, and here are some of them.  

On the Shelves

First, some items which are out in the open.  I collected those Dolls of the World at one time.  I ripped off their tacky costumes their plastic shoes and ratty hair.  Underneath, they are lovely androids, waiting for me to give them purpose.  I think they look nice just as they are.

Various mediums, sealants, textures and grounds.  All I have to do is swivel around in my chair and pick one.  They're expensive, but they last a very long time.  My most recent discovery is Yes! paste.  We're working on our relationship.  
Some of the larger balls of twine and string.  There is also a vintage string drawer, in addition to a drawer for threads, string and cord of all types.  There's just something about string that I cannot resist.  

Miscellaneous artifacts.  These are items that I'm certain will be essential to future projects.  But if they sit there long enough, I will consider listing them on Etsy as supplies.  I'm still inspired every day by everything I have.  Nothing seems old to me, or like it was a bad purchase, ever.  

A bin of electrical parts.  I like taking gadgets apart.  I've recently cleared a lot of things out, because I was never going to use some of the old housings, etc.  Only the giblets, the tender inner bits, remain.  These were never meant to be looked at, and that makes them worth seeing.  

More sundries.  I recently found the vintage flashlight at a thrift store for 50 cents.  I'm thrilled when that happens.  I love the old light fixtures, too.  They are so sculptural.  The plastic bag is full of plastic fingers that used to contain bubble blowing liquid.  Now they're just cool.

In My Drawers

One of my charms drawers.  This one contains mainly body parts - hands, feet, faces, etc.  Some of them are milagros, or miraculous medals used for curing ailments.  All of them are of high quality, because there's just no point in working with low-quality materials.  This is one of about four charm drawers, which are not to be confused with embellishment drawers.  

This drawer is just for rivets, eyelets, and the tools to apply them.  When I'm in a creative frenzy I have to be able to find exactly what I want when I want it.  So Unfrenzied Me prepares the way for Frenzied Me. These are organized by metal color, size, and type.  

One of the "white and clear" bead drawers, of which there are three.  Small white beads are so very useful.  These all started life in vintage necklaces, which I carefully took apart.  Doing this, I know very few if any people are going to have the same supplies.  And it's fun.

One of my "focal components" drawers.  My industrial aesthetic is evident here.  On the left are bits of fossilized bone.  At top are some vintage fraternal organization ribbons.  And then there's an old rubber plug and a British knitting needle gauge.  Something will come of this.

The blue bead drawer.  Beads are classified by color now.  I started out classifying them by material but that was obviously silly.  Again, a lot of these came from vintage necklaces.  But some are African trade beads, which are a fave of mine.  Only a very few are new.

Another focal elements drawer.  I have a thing for vintage Tootsie cars and Lesney, their British equivalent.  They make great focal elements.  Also bits of vintage jewelry, paper (in the wrong drawer!), vintage faucets and industrial elements.  These drawers were not rearranged before photographing them, obviously.  

The Studio

Finally, a work in progress.  Some things have to sit around and germinate for a while.  I got some old radios a while back and I'm letting them sit and stew.  Every now and then I rearrange them, put items inside them, and so on.  One day something will click.  At right is a light tower from a miniature railroad.  This will be great.  

So there you have it - some insight into what it takes to work in many mediums.  I've never chosen between jewelry, collage, and assemblage.  I love working with metal, and glue, and I simply must take things apart.  When I go into my studio I rarely know what I'm going to be doing that day - cleaning up, starting a project, ending one, or just rearranging.  I do know I'll have fun.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Evil Laughter: The Filmette

I've made my first filmette!. In it, with only the aid of my finger, I demonstrate a doll voicebox I have available in the FionaDorothy shop on Etsy.

Having made it, I realized it might have a certain surreal appeal all on its own.  And now many other filmette possibilities are occurring to me.

Today: YouTube.  Tomorrow: Cannes?